Small Beginings

After what seems like the longest winter in history, spring is finally here. What a relief, and what a joy! It seems that our Wisconsin climate has become prone to wild fluctuations - one year it's so hot and dry that nothing will grow, the next it's too cold and wet.... let's just hope that after this late start we can pull together a decent growing season.

I'm reading Barbara Kingsolver's new novel, Flight Behavior. She is a delightful writer, and one of my favorites. This book tackles the subject of global climate change in a unique way that I've found very insightful and also very scary. What's in store for us in the years to come? Supporting a local food economy and gaining the skills to grow and preserve my family's food seem more important than ever. 

Here's a small step toward that goal. Newly planted seed beds! Most of the early spring planting is done, and I'm beginning to think the seeds might even come up.

A row of Spinach and a row of Kale (Lacinato and Red Russian). This weekend I'll add a row of lettuce and hopefully in a few weeks we'll have baby greens to make salad. I've also seeded radishes, peas, and cilantro. Nothing has broken ground, but hopefully this weekend we'll see some small beginnings.

We started broccoli, tomatoes, peppers, and parsley indoors in March. Most of it is under lights in the basement, waiting for summer weather. The broccoli is hardening off in the patio and will be planted this weekend.

Have I mentioned that we got new chickens? The old flock went to a new home in order to lessen my load of responsibilities when the baby came. These girls are a year old, already laying. They are two Light Sussex, a Sussex/Rhode Island Red cross, and a Blue Marans. Pretty girls, and so nice to have eggs again!

 Strawberries just beginning to make themselves known. We have yet to get a decent crop from this planting - here's hoping this year is our year. How hungry I am for sun warmed, sweet, soft, fresh picked berries!

and then there's this little guy - a seed that was planted over a year ago, and growing at an unbelievable rate. How I'll be able to handle my gardening tasks this summer with him tagging along is still a mystery.

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Blank Canvas

The snow is finally gone! After what seems to be the longest winter in my life, spring is finally here. A wonderful drenching rain came this morning to wash away some of the winter filth, and then around noon the sun came out and the temperature rose to a whopping 62 degrees. Heaven! The baby, the dog and I took a long walk and I swear the grass was greener when we got home than it was when we left.

The garden is muddy, but other than that it's ready to go. Oh, the possibilities! We have seeds started in the basement, and it's just about time to get some the cool weather veggies in the ground. We'll have this home garden, plus our plot at the McCormick Community Gardens, and possibly another community garden on Atwood. I've been on the waiting list for a few years now and I have a feeling this year will be our year.

Three gardens, a full time job, and a 6 month old baby. Can she do it? Time will tell. This time of year anything seems possible.
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Spinach Salad with Blood Oranges, Strawberries, and Pepitos

Spring has been exceptionally slow in coming this year. The daylight has increased, but the temperatures have still been colder than normal, and there's still snow cover in a lot of areas... Frustrating to say the least, especially for a new mother ready to show her baby the wonders of nature! At least the local spinach is here, though! This is grown in hoop-houses by my friends at Westridge Organic Produce, and wow is it good! So flavorful and alive - it makes you realize just how un-fresh many of our "fresh" vegetables are all winter.

There was an Easter potluck planned at my Aunt's house last Sunday, so I decided to counteract some of the candy, cupcakes, and other sweets with a springtime spinach salad.

Yes, I know that strawberry season is a long way off. The California season is starting up, but these beauts are from farther parts than that even: Mexico. I have nothing against Mexican produce, organic strawberries go so very well with spinach, and these are really nice right now, so I went for it. Really, a lot of the Mexican produce production happens almost as near to us as California, so why discriminate? 

Pepitos, also known by their more boring name: pumpkin seeds. I was debating putting bacon in this salad. I didn't, but I compromised by toasting these in the bacon grease left in the pan from our Easter breakfast bacon. Delish. I'll have to remember that trick next Halloween! I bought these raw and unsalted and added salt to the pan as they were toasting. Thanks to my friend Max for the pumpkin seed idea - they worked out great!

The last ingredient was a bunch of these beautiful blood oranges. The longer I've known blood oranges, the more I've grown to love them. These are not anything like the safe, sweet, predictable navels. Blood oranges have a burst of tart, fresh, flavor that can knock your socks off - not to mention the beauty of their amazing color. I just love them. They are past peak season now, but as one of the late maturing citrus fruits, they still belong in my spring salad.

The finished product. I dressed it with a simple balsamic (olive oil, blood orange juice, balsamic vinegar, basil, black pepper, and salt). Yum. 

Here's a simple recipe. No quantities - in this kind of salad, everything should be to taste.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Fresh Juice of a few Blood Oranges
Aged Balsamic Vinegar
Dried Basil (or fresh is you have it!)
Fresh Ground Black Pepper

Combine everything in a jar with a tight lid. Shake well just before using.

Raw Pumpkin Seeds
Bacon Grease from a Pastured Hog (or Olive Oil or any other oil you like)
Fresh Organic Baby Spinach
Organic Blood Oranges, segmented and cut into 1" pieces plus one orange cut into slices for garnish
Organic Strawberries, cut into quarters or 1/8ths plus a few cut into halves for garnish
Blood Orange Balsamic Dressing 

Toast the pumpkin seeds in a skillet over medium heat with the bacon grease or oil. Stir often, until the seeds are nicely browned. Add salt to taste. Wait until just before serving and then mix everything together. Toss well, then garnish the top with slices of blood orange and strawberry halves.

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Beautiful Broth

I really don't understand how anyone can cook a roast chicken and then just throw away the carcass. Chicken stock is divine, easy to do, healthful, and it makes your house smell amazing on a cold early spring day. What's not to love?

This stock was particularly beautiful. Leek tops, celery leaves, carrots, and of course the carcass of the roast chicken we enjoyed the night before. Cover it all with water and simmer for at least a few hours.

If you plan to make soup, it's important to pick any remaining meat off the bones before you begin. If you leave it on and boil it with the stock, it will get tough and overcooked and not good for much.

After a few hours, here's what we have. Not quite as pretty, but boy did it smell amazing!

The last step is to skim any foam off the top and strain out the solids. The light in this picture is a little weird, but you can see what a beautiful color it is, with a nice layer of yellow fat at the top.... you can tell this was a pastured chicken (local of course)! It's is an incredibly nutritious liquid, and will make a rich, satisfying soup. 

I always make enough to make one batch of soup and extra to freeze. That gives me at least three meals out of one chicken - good for the pocketbook, and a really nice way to fully utilize the animal.

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White Tea

One thing about breastfeeding is that it makes you hungry and thirsty pretty much all the time. I've never been a very good water-drinker, especially this time of year when the chill in the air makes any cold liquid unappealing. I've been craving hot drinks of all kinds, and this has become my pre-bedtime ritual.

When I say "white tea", I don't meant the caffeinated beverage that's derived from the tea plant. That kind of white tea has become somewhat trendy these days. No, this is a favorite beverages from my childhood, no caffeine, no actual tea involved at all. An old lady friend used to make it for us kids, and we'd drink it with her and her husband when they had the more adult version - black tea. My memories are vague, but I believe Edie (that was her name) came from somewhere on the East Coast. Her family, I remember, came from the Isle of Man - I used to be so intrigued by her stories of the land where cats have no tails...... 

Anyway, white tea. I've learned since that it's also sometimes called "Cambric Tea," named after the white fabric. It's the simplest thing - 1/4 milk, 3/4 hot water, and a spoonful of honey. I know it doesn't sound too exciting, it's not really, but it is just the thing to warm you up before going to bed on a cold winter night.

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My New Life

I remember being really annoyed when a food blogger that I used to follow had a baby and seemed to forget about food for a while and fill her blog with baby pictures and updates. What a fool I was!

Not only has having a baby made me forget all about blogging almost completely, but my hang up with Good Food, too, has fallen by the wayside. Even when I do remember that I'm supposed to be a kind or sort of "foodie," it's only for brief moments - certainly not long enough to make a decent meal. I am now in awe that the other blogger continued as much as she did; and that she had even a few food related posts in those first few months.

Let me backup for a second: Leo was born December 13, making him 7 weeks and 2 days old today. I won't go into to it too much, but he is a pretty wonderful little thing - when he's not screaming.

Though I kept up pretty well with my local, "good food" regime while I was pregnant, everything has gone out the window in the last two months. It didn't help that I had to have an unexpected cesarian section - just getting out of the house to buy groceries became a huge endeavor, not to mention finding the time and energy to make something creative.

My breakfasts and lunches have been quick bites grabbed in those peaceful and unplanned moments while the baby is sleeping. Apples and peanut-butter, leftover Chinese takeout, almond butter and honey sandwiches.... the things that sustain but do not excite. Dinner has been quickly planned and executed by Stanley or myself. Rarely has it been culinarily interesting. Often it has been take-out.

I've recently started using the baby carier quite a bit, and that makes things a little easier, although cooking isn't quite the same with a whimpering infant strapped to your front.

In short, food has become much more about just getting quick calories and some nutrition into my body and less about "voting with my fork". Breastfeeding, it turns out, burns significantly more calories than pregnancy. I was never so hungry during those 9 months of pregnancy as I am now.

I go back to work in less than a week. The nature of my job means that I will automatically be more in tune with what's going on in the seasonal produce world. Grocery shopping will get a lot easier. There will be less time to cook, but hopefully as the baby and I continue to adjust to each other, we can come up with some routines that allow for cooking time.

I'm not sure if anyone still reads this, but I'll try to update out progress as I can. This new phase of life is incredibly challenging in so many ways, food being a big one.
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New Beginnings

Hello ~ Yes, it's been a long time since I've posted! New phases of life have led to new priorities and new endeavors, and that's not necessarily a bad thing!

I'd like to invite everyone to visit my new blog: In Utero Locavore. Here's a taste from the first post:


 Hello everyone! It's been almost a full year since I've posted to my blog, The Good Food Muse, and given the long period of time and the changes in my life, I thought it fitting that I start a new project.

As you can probably guess from the blog title, I'm pregnant! Stanley and I are expecting a baby boy in mid-December, which makes me 24 weeks along, almost at the 2/3 mark. Pregnancy hasn't been easy, but it hasn't been all that hard either. Especially once I could feel the movements of the baby in my womb, and the idea that there reallyis a little person in there became really real to me, excitement overwhelmed the feelings of discomfort. Hopefully that keeps up!

So what's this new blog about? Well, anything I write at this point in my life will invariably be about baby. It's really all I think about at times, and I can't leave him out. That's a given.

I've been thinking about how cool it is that my baby is made up entirely of things that I have eaten in the past months, many of them local. He's only a little over 1lb now, with a lot more weight to gain in the next three months. What percentage of him will come directly out of the Wisconsin soil?  What does this mean for him as new human being? What does this mean for his mother and family? These are questions I hope to delve into here.

I've also started thinking about local beyond food. How can I welcome my baby in a way that upholds the same principals that draw me to local food? How can I enter into motherhood in a way that is good for me, good for my baby, and also good to the planet, it's soil, it's animals, and the economy of the place we call home? 
Of increasing importance to me as I plan for my family's future, is how do I do all this without spending way too much money? It seems that a lifestyle in which organic, sustainable, and local are central factors is reserved only for people who can afford it. Is there a way to do it in a way that is economically sustainable for my family and also realistic for our available time and energy? We shall see.

As September rolls closer, I've realized that I've done some sort of eat local challenge every year for 5 years. I can't imagine stopping now. I plan to start this blog with an eat local challenge, and explore what that means for a pregnant lady. If time and energy still exist, I'll continue through the birth of my baby boy, exploring all of the themes above, and more as they come up.

So there you have it: In Utero Locavore.
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And Now for Something Completely Different

Remember back in October when I mentioned the bin of huge decorative pumpkins we picked up at the Amish produce auction? These were prominent decorations at our wedding, and of course we couldn't just get rid of them afterward.

So here's where they are now - decorations turned into winter sustenance for the neighborhood squirrels.

Cute, no?

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Winter-in-California Fruit Salad

As part of my job schlepping produce at the local food Co-op, I hear people complain all too often about the lack of peaches, grapes, and watermelon in our produce aisle this time of year. It's as if with the absence of these summer fruits, there is nothing left worth eating. How far from the truth.

For our family's Christmas brunch, one of my contributions was this fruit salad, which is chock full of some of the most beautiful seasonal fruits. Yes, you can buy peaches, strawberries, and grapes this time of year, but why on earth would you eat these under-ripe, tasteless, travelers from a hemisphere away when you can have wonderful fruit that was grown right here in the good 'ol USA?

Satsuma mandarins from Side Hill Citrus. The perfect combination of tart and sweet in a deliciously juicy package. The citrus season is just beginning!

Kiwi, another Vitamin C rich winter fruit. Like pears, kiwi have to be stored for a period of time after harvest in order to develop their sugars. They're only now reaching their winter time sweetness.

Two of the best winter keeping apples - Pink Lady and Arkansas Black. Yes, I know there are Wisconsin apples available now, and that I really should be using them. These California beauties are just so big and showy.... I couldn't help it. They just don't grow organic apples like this in Wisconsin. These are from Cuyama Orchards - one of my all time favorite California apple growers.

Pomegranate. We found this super simple method of deseeding them, which makes it easier than seems possible. Essentially, you spank it with a spoon and the arils fall out. Try it - you will be amazed.

A winter fruit salad isn't complete without persimmons. I have to admit, I get a little silly about these when they're around - I really start to crave them. Unhappily, their season is just about up. Get 'em while you can.

It was all brought together by the juice of this fruit, which I have developed a new love for this winter. Passionfruit, easily juiced by my food mill. This was the secret ingredient in my cranberry sauce, the flavoring for some incredible icing, even a bit of zing to jazz up a simple glass of water. I could think of a million uses for the tangy juice of this fruit..... I already can't wait till they come back next year!

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Persimmons & Passion Fruit

It all began with these fuyu persimmons. The sad thing about persimmons is that when they are really perfectly ripe, no one wants to buy them. They are squishy, gooey, bruised looking, and all around ugly - yet their flavor at this point is divine. Sweet, rich, and creamy.......I try not to use cliches very often, but "nectar of the gods" comes to minds.

I bought these at a discount from my produce department because no one else wanted them. Lucky me.

This just in: food mills are awesome. I never knew how much I needed one until I got one. Now I don't know if I could get by without it. This is what the persimmons looked like after a run through the mill.

Persimmon Bread. This recipe has James Beard's name attached to it, so I figured it must be good. It also uses a TON of butter - another good sign. I used whole wheat flour, fresh grated nutmeg, pecans, dried cranberries, Costa Rican rum instead of cognac, and the full 2 1/2 cups of sugar. Persimmon adds a wonderful moist rich flavor to baked goods like this one.

Passion Fruit: another ugly duckling of the produce aisle. The rich sweetness of the persimmon is just begging for some tang for balance, and these babies are just the thing. From the outside, they look like there must be something wrong with them. As they ripen, the smooth purple fruit turn wrinkly. They are incredibly light to the touch, leading one to believe that there couldn't be much of interest inside.

The flavor is incredible. Tangy like citrus, but more complex and aromatic. Yum. Sadly, they don't get their name from passionate love... no, their beautiful flower reminded some missionary of the passion of the Christ. Don't ask me to explain that one, 'cause honestly I just don't get it.

Food mill to the rescue once again. This handy tool easily and quickly sorted the hard crunchy seeds from the flavorful juice.

I whipped the passion fruit juice with cream cheese and powdered sugar to make this thick sauce.

If I had a better camera this would look more appetizing - just ignore the weird green hue. Moist sweet persimmon bread topped with tangy and refreshing passion fruit icing. November doesn't get any better than this.
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A Perfect Day

I know that most every bride will claim that her wedding was the perfect day... well, our wedding really was the perfect day. October 9, 2011 came at the tail end of one of the most glorious Indian summers that Wisconsin has ever seen. It was a warm, golden sunny day of bright fall colors and deep blue skies. I could wax poetic for a long time, but I'll spare you. Just look through these pictures and you'll understand.

Many thanks go to Stephanie Rickets to agreed to come take these pictures of the food. She has a blog of her own, My Year of Food, which you really should visit. Her photos puts mine to shame, and I bet some day she'll be a famous food photographer.

I always call this first course "The Appetizers" mostly because I can't spell that other word no matter how I try. Anyhow, it came after our wedding ceremony and before dinner and although I myself didn't get any (too busy taking photographs and greeting our guests) I'm sure they were delicious.

There were Baguettes from The Batch Bakehouse (where else?) along with an assortment of the finest Wisconsin cheeses, dry cured meats, fall fruits, and my homemade pickles.

Old School Salami from Bolzano Meats in Milwaukee

Parker Pears from Ela Orchard and Harrow's Sweet from Healthy Ridge in Door County

My favorite apple of the season: Liberty from Ela Orchard. It's a sophisticated apple - rich and spicy sweet.

My homemade dilly beans, bread and butter pickles, and pickled beets.

There's a surprising lack of good charcuterie in this state... this is what I could find: Pepperoni from Underground Kitchen, Old School Salami from Bolzano, and good old fashioned summer sausage from Pecatonica.

The cheese. Dreamfarm chevre, Widmer's 6 year cheddar, and the best string cheese on earth (really, it is the best string cheese on earth): Cesar's Oaxacan Style String Cheese.

This is Wisconsin - just one cheese platter would never suffice. Here we've got Carr Valley Apple Smoked Cheddar, Hidden Springs Bohemian Blue, Shepherd's Ridge Oliver's Reserve, and Holland's Family Cheese Aged Marieke Gouda. Beautiful artisan cheeses.

My little brother brewed up a batch of Oktoberfest just for the occasion, which we sipped along with dry (Brut) and sweet (Appely Doux) champagne style hard cider from Aeppeltreow Cidery. This being such a local event, I couldn't buy wine from California! The sparkling cider is just fabulous.

For the non drinkers there was regular cider from Green Thumb....

along with Stanley's own home brewed iced tea.

These pictures turned out so lovely, I can't help but share.

Many of the decorations came from the Tri County Auction - a wholesale produce auction run by the Amish. Beautiful mums, squashes, and decorative corn.

Time to set the stage for dinner. The tables were graced with swan gourds, also from the produce auction, which my oh-so-talented bridesmaids painted table numbers on.

Every place setting came with a half pint jar of preserves: jams, pickles, dried tomatoes. I made over 100 of these little guys.

We also screen-printed a bib for each guest.

Here you can kind of sort of see the head table. Pretty, no?

Yes, that's me and my hubby. Walking down to dinner.

and what a feast it was! The food was prepared by Jeff of Papa Bear's BBQ in Madison. He did an incredible job.

Coleslaw with my homegrown cabbage.

Garlic roasted potatoes from the Main Street garden,

My beans got eaten by a lucky garden rabbit - these came from Flyte Family Farm.

Collards from our side yard. These were incredible - probably my favorite part of the whole meal.

The pork - from a lush pasture at The Rustic Table in Northern Wisconsin to our wedding feast in just three days. It doesn't get better than this.

We also had chicken from The Rustic Table.

The Corn Bread was amazing. It ended up being a mixture of our our homegrown corn and also some from Wild Goose Farm (a tiny farm that I work with at the Co-op), ground by my brother Dave. It also used local whole wheat flour, and eggs. Hearty, flavorful, rich, and dense.

It was all paired with more hard cider from Aeppeltreow - their Barn Swallow Draft Cider.

Going through the buffet line.

My plate.

Stanley's plate.

The cake. Winter Luxury Pumpkin cake with whipped cream frosting. Not my pumpkins - they were still a few weeks from ripe when the wedding date arrived. The pumpkins came instead from Blue Skies Farm.

The cake was made by Mary from Honey Bee Bakery. So beautiful. This wasn't one of those pretty wedding cakes that tastes like cardboard... it was moist and perfectly pumpkiny. The perfect finale to the perfect wedding day.

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